Dayton's student achievement data tell a slightly hopeful story

The Ohio Department of Education released student achievement data for the 2010-11 school year earlier today, and the results for Dayton provide a picture of what's happening per school performance in Fordham's hometown.

The good news is that the public schools ??? both district and charter schools ??? posted academic gains in 2010-11. While just two years ago, no student in Dayton attended a public school that was rated Excellent or Excellent with Distinction, this past school year five percent of the city's students attended such a school. Further, in 2010-11, 55 percent of Dayton students attended a school rated Continuous Improvement (a C) or better, up from 36 percent in 2009-10. The percent of students in Academic Emergency (F) rated schools dropped from 36 percent in 2009-10 to just 15 percent in 2010-11. Furthermore, far fewer students in Dayton ??? in districts and charters ??? attended a D or F-rated school. And far more students in Dayton are meeting or exceeded ???expected growth??? than falling below it.??

What's driving this improvement? There seems to be at least four factors involved in these gains. First, the Dayton Public Schools' (DPS) academic reform (see here) plan is starting to bear fruit. District high school results are mostly improved from 2009-10, and two Dayton high schools ??? Stivers School for the Arts and the David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center ??? are in the top eight of all Dayton schools in terms of student performance.?? Further, the district-authorized Dayton Early College Academy was the city's only school ranked Excellent with Distinction. But, the DPS reforms go deeper and include improvements to the district's K-8 schools. Of the 23 district K-8 schools that received academic performance ratings, 17 showed overall gains on their Performance Index (PI) Scores. This PI score is the purest measure of student achievement gains.

Second, Dayton's charter schools have gotten better in recent years. This is the result of the state's academic death penalty for persistently woeful schools, and market competition that has been driving out underperforming schools. Since 2008, seven charter schools have closed while newer schools that have opened recently include some decent ones (Horizon Science Academies). Note, in 2005 Dayton had 38 charters in operation while in 2011 that number was down to 30 schools (and overall enrollment in charters has remained flat). Further, high performing charters in Dayton have high enrollment numbers. The two largest charters in town ??? Pathway School of Discover and Emerson Academy (both operated by National Heritage Academies) ??? enroll more than 1,200 students and each are rated Effective by the state. These two schools alone enroll about 20 percent of all children in Dayton attending a charter school.

Third, more and more children in Dayton have left public schools ??? DPS and charters ??? for area private schools that receive publicly funded vouchers. In 2010-11, 1,668 students from Dayton used a voucher to attend an area private school. These students and their test scores are no longer reported by either DPS or areas charters. This matters because we know from 2009-10 data (performance data for voucher students is not yet available for 2010-11) that only about half of these students are proficient were English Language Arts and only about a third were proficient in math.

Fourth, there is undeniably some amount of ???grade inflation??? in the results issued by the state for Dayton schools (and all schools statewide). In 2007, Fordham issued The Proficiency Illusion, which reported Ohio's ???estimated reading and mathematics cut scores generally rank among the lower half of the 26 states examined for this report.??? ???Proficient??? by Ohio's standard doesn't always mean a student has mastered what he should know and be able to do in the subject area. Further, Ohio's value-added measures of student growth provide schools with an opportunity to bump up their academic rating, regardless of their overall proficiency scores. For example, a school can jump from Academic Watch (a D) to Continuous Improvement (a C) based on making above expected growth. In Dayton, this is an important factor in improved school ratings. Of the 39 Dayton schools that have value-added data, 11 saw their overall rating increase because of value-added.?? But just three of these schools were decent performers moving among the highest rating levels (e.g., from C to B or from B to A).?? Among the remaining eight, three moved from F to D because of value-added and five moved from D to C.??

In sum, Dayton's educators are making steady gains in improving student achievement for the city's youngsters, more than 90 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. This is a real accomplishment. The results, however, are both a mix of hard work by educators and students, and public policy decisions over the years. State policies have created a thriving market-place of schools in Dayton that seem to be bearing fruit in terms of improved student achievement, while also creating an accountability system that is less than perfect and tends to be generous in terms of bumping up overall performance for schools and students.

Terry Ryan

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